Review: Graciela Iturbide Exhibit at the Getty Museum

Mrs. TacoSam and I went to the Getty Museum on Saturday, February 23, 2008, to do some chilaxin on a Saturday afternoon, look at some art, and simply to just unwind from the long week. We saw the photography exhibit entitled Danza de la Cabrita (The Goat’s Dance) Photographs by Graciela Iturbide. Iturbide is a famous Mexican photographer who studied under the master of photography and cinematography Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

To see a short slideshow of my photos from our day at the Getty, please click on this link.

Although the quality of the photographs was excellent, I had mixed feelings about this Exhibit for various reasons. There are two main series of photographs. One series is on the indigenous people of Oaxaca and documents how they slaughter hundreds of goats in an annual ritual at private haciendas. A little boy is selected to do a ritual dance before the slaughter, hence the title.

The other main series is entitled “East L.A.” and documents a so-called family of cholos from one of the oldest gangs in East L.A., White Fence.

PROS: A really big exhibit at the Getty by one of the best photographers alive today, plus she’s Mexican and a woman. Almost all the photos on display are black and white and of excellent quality. Nuestra Senora de las Iguanas, Juchitan, Oaxaca is on display in its full glory. Lots of ancillary programs like conversations, seminars, concerts and festivals accompany this Exhibit. You get a very good glimpse a closed societies and societies that are marginalized and outcast.

CONS: The photographs in this Exhibit hit all the Mexican and Chicano stereotypes in a particularly efficient and excellent fashion. You see the following:

1. Goat sacrifice and blood (this covers the Aztec stereotype, see also Mel Gibson’s movie, Apocalypto);

2. Transvestites (okay I am at a loss on this one);

3. The obligatory cactus (the Nopal stereotype);

4. Extreme poverty in Mexico, Tijuana and East L.A. (the poor Mexican stereotype);

5. A bunch of Cholos with tattoos (the Chicano Cholo stereotype–and this is what they chose as the main image or “logo” for the exhibit that you see printed everywhere and photographed in this post above); and

6. A ton of Cholos and Cholas with heavy makeup and babies, all flashing gang signs (the gang-infested East LA stereotype).

In fact, the East L.A. series could have been photographic stills for the movie Blood in Blood Out (Bound By Honor). There were that many stereotypes! The only thing missing was Edward James Olmos going Oraaaaale!! Particularly entertaining was just sitting back and hearing the comments by the general public on these photographs.

The East LA series was taken in 1986. I wondered to myself whether the Cholos photographed were still alive today and if they knew that they were on display inside the Getty, and whether the Cholo Baby (identified as Boo-Boo) was still alive today (he would be 22 today).

So my question to you dear reader is why is Latino Art or Chicano Art too often focused on or dominated by these same themes? Does Chicano Art have to have lowriders, cholos, tattoos, zuit suits, Edward James Olmos and the Virgen de Guadalupe to be considered Chicano Art? What is Chicano Art?

So-called “good” art is supposed to create a reaction inside of you and make you think or feel something. Based on this criteria, I would categorize this exhibit as good art. I highly recommend that you go see this Exhibit for yourself. If you don’t like it, there are many other things to see and do at the Getty Museum.


A short video clip of an interview with Graciela Iturbide:


10 responses to “Review: Graciela Iturbide Exhibit at the Getty Museum

  1. I saw that exhibit recently and really liked some of her pics, especially the goat ones, though I didn’t make any of the Aztec connections. Considering the main pic they used to promote the show, I was disappointed with the East LA gallery as it just didn’t seem very exceptional, though maybe to me eyes its just too ordinary. I get the sense that you are reacting against “stereotypes” you don’t like and not seeing how commonplace it might actually be, like the poor Mexican. That’s a pretty solid reality.

    Some of her images are powerful but I didn’t like much of the text that tended to ascribe some lofty or artistic interpretation to common scenery.

  2. Chavo, thanks for your comment. Overall, I did like the Exhibit. Its not that I don’t like the stereotypes, its just that they are the same ones over and over and over and over. I think you do an excellent job of documenting life in Lincoln Heights, East Los. The reason I like all your photos and posts is precisely because you don’t use the same recycled stereotypes, you show a true snapshot of the vibrant neighborhood. As you know, there is so much more to East L.A. than Cholos!

  3. Found your link through Pachuco3000
    Wrote about this a little while ago, under “The Glorification of the Chola”. As a East LA lady myself, i too, had mixed emotions. Isnt it strange how we feel about this? yes, she’s a woman, and she’s from mexico, but after that is said and done, we have to wonder about it right? and if we wonder, then, is it really as great as we want to imagine it to be?
    Maybe not… The same recycled stereotypes in black and white for non-brown folks to see, point and wonder if the cholas still cary their aquanet in their back pocket. sigh.

  4. Don’t know why we are so willing to generate the same stereotypes about ourselves. In many ways my sentiments reflect Octavio Paz’s discussion in the first chapter of Labyrinth of Solitude. Tex[t]-Mex Gallery blog pointed out that Cheech & Chong are the best known Mexicans in the world. Questions begin to form about who is really defining who.

  5. Wendy, thanks for your comment. I agree with your thoughts and sentiments. The Exhibition also fostered a good discussion with my wife this morning over breakfast–about stereotypes and about how the Exhibition was more of a missed opportunity.

    Chano, thanks for your comment. Its been years since I read Labyrinth of Solitude. I’ll have to pick it up again and check it out. With respect to Cheech and Chong, at least people watching know its a comedy/parody. And yes, my wife and I discussed also the question of who is defining who.

  6. I appreciate the questions that you’re posing with this entry. Definitely worth thinking about.

    In December 2006, I happened to be visiting the Dallas area while the Latino Cultural Center had an exhibit titled, “Un Alma…Trece Mujeres.” It showcased work from several Latin American countries, and was a great introduction into various styles and themes by artists that were new to me.

  7. Katherine, thank you for your comment. Like your blog.

  8. I visited the exhibit a few weeks ago. I was upset that I forgot my camera because it was a beautiful day with great views looking south and west.

    I really liked the photos from Mexico (Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tijuana), but the East LA section made me feel weird. It’s just not the East LA I know — though I’m not denying it’s existence — and I wonder how someone who had never been to East LA except through driving by on the freeway would look at those portraits. It just seemed rather reductionist.

    What were some of the comments you heard? I visited on a weekday afternoon, and it wasn’t too crowded. I didn’t hear
    much, but I was also listening to my iPod the whole time.

    Oh yeah, I thought some of the translations for the photos were funny.

  9. Cindylu, I agree with you. I am not denying its existence either. However, we’ve seen these types of images before too many times. Imagine if they had an exhibit by an African American photographer and they showed a bunch of images of gangmembers in South Central L.A.

    I found it interesting that the title of show was Danza de la Cabrita (The Goat’s Dance) Photographs by Graciela Iturbide, yet the main image for the show (and the one photgraphed above) was of a Virgen de Guadalupe tattoo on a Cholo’s back. The Goad Dance and other Mexico photographs were easily the vast majority of the Exhibit. The Cholo photographs were a small portion of the Exhibit, and have nothing to do with the Goat Dance referenced in the title of the show. So to me, its an interesting choice by the curator as to which image would “represent” the Exhibition (the Cholo image versus one from the Goat Dance Series).

    Most of the comments were along the line of “how depressing”, and “I can’t believe someone would want to photograph those people” to a few racial ones like “boy, that race hasn’t learned”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s